Free Indeed…Memorial Day!

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What we know as Memorial Day began as Decoration Day. In America, the custom of visiting the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of deceased family members soon became occasions for family reunions and picnics as well. After the War Between the States, people recognized the need to set a special day to honor those who died in the Civil War. Following World War I the special day was expanded to honor all who had died in American wars.

For us, Memorial Day should be more than a three-day weekend, barbecues and shopping. It should remind us that freedom is never free. It should help us remember how privileged we really are because millions fought and won battles for freedom against tyranny and oppression. It should give us a pause to reflect and to realize that many paid for our freedom with their very lives.

However, we are prone to forget the significance of this day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wisely said, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” Sometimes we forget that freedom is not free.

In remembrance of the fallen troops who died in service, Memorial Day marks a time of giving thanks and being grateful. It is a time to remember the great sacrifice of the fallen soldiers. It reminds us how precious freedom is and that it still needs to be guarded closely. As we celebrate Memorial Day, we pay tribute to those who have given their lives in our nation’s wars. Robert A. Heinlein said, “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.”

Memorial Day reminds me of two things. On one hand, it’s all about remembering the price of our freedom. It is recalling the cost paid to secure our way of life in liberty. The very most a person can do for his friend is to die for him – a clear demonstration of supreme love. However, Memorial Day also reminds me of the greatest cost ever given by any man to bring freedom to others. It is a day to recall the great price Jesus paid to free us from the death penalty of our sins and to grant soul liberty, salvation and eternal life.

Jesus spoke of this great love in John 15:13 when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The “greater love” is shown, not discussed—but displayed, becoming visible when one willingly gives his life for another. This is the kind of love Jesus has for each one of us. Jesus demonstrated His love by giving His life a sacrifice “for his friends” – literally in behalf of his friends, or in the place of his friends.

The “friends” Jesus died for, were actually His enemies when He died for them. This fact is what makes the sacrificial love of Christ so amazing. Only a few people would willingly die for friends, but Jesus died for the enemy, the hater, for those who despised Him. Paul wrote, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

Marcus Dods said that, “Self-sacrifice is the high-water mark of love.” To sacrifice oneself requires more than words or desire. Peter thought he was ready to lay his life down for Jesus, but in the face of an accusation by a servant girl, denied the Lord three times (John 18:17, 18, 25-27). All the professions of love and devotion can only be proven by actions. The Lord Jesus verified His love by laying down “his life for his friends.” This was, and is, the supreme example of sacrificial love.

Several years later Peter wrote this about Christ’s sacrifice for our sins: “He himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” because it is “by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

The Lord’s love for us was immeasurable. His compassion for our condemned condition was so strong, that, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

As Peter wrote, this sacrifice Jesus made, this death He died for us, was so He could, “bring us to God.” His atoning death was able to please the holy and righteous demands of God because “Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

The Bible also teaches that Jesus lives to secure the salvation He died to purchase, so that, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2).

Why not make this a Double Memorial Day? On this Memorial Day, remember those who paid the ultimate cost, giving their lives for your national freedom. And rejoice and trust in the One who gave His life for your spiritual freedom. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). And freedom in Christ is the greatest freedom the world has ever seen.

 

 

 

Witnessing History

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Jonathan Lethem wrote, “You could grow up in the city where history was made and still miss it all” (The Fortress of Solitude).

It is possible to witness history being made, and yet miss it. History was made last week, on Monday, May 14, 2018, when the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. On the surface, it doesn’t seem that spectacular, but let me tell you why it was historical.

About four thousand years ago, God promised Abraham, “I will make you a great nation…and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). This everlasting covenant between God and Abraham included a people (the nation of Israel) and a possession (the land of Israel).   God had the right to give it to Abraham, because He made the land in the first place. And Abraham had the right to receive it because he moved to the land of Canaan from Ur, in obedience to God’s direct command.

Several years later, as Abraham and Sarah were childless and uncertain, God came to him again and said; “’Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Genesis 15:5). Then, to encourage Abraham further, God said, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it” (verse 7).

God’s covenant with Abraham was extended to his son, Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5, 24); then to his grandson Jacob (Genesis 35:10-12), and to his twelve great grandsons, the twelve sons of Jacob, the children of Israel, and to their descendants (Exodus 2:23-25).

About three thousand years ago, King David made the city of Jerusalem his home and capital of Israel. David purchased the site of the future temple on Mount Moriah and declared it the “house of the LORD God” (1 Chronicles 21:18, 26—22:1). It was on this very site a thousand years earlier Abraham had offered Isaac (Genesis 22:2). It was here that David’s son, Solomon, constructed the Temple of God (2 Chronicles 3:1).

At the ascension of King Solomon’s son to the Jerusalem throne, the kingdom was divided in two, between Israel (mainly the 10 northern tribes) and Judah (primarily the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin). For the most part, Israel forsook the Lord and fell to Assyria in 722 BC, while Judah and the capital of Jerusalem fell to Babylon in 586 BC (2 Chronicles 36:15-21).

Around 500 BC God moved the heart of King Cyrus to authorize the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt, the Temple was restored and Israel was a nation, though weakened and often defenseless.

A few years before the birth of Christ, Herod the Great built the second great Temple in Jerusalem, the foundations of which remain to this day under the Temple Mount. However, Herod’s Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem ransacked and Israelites scattered by the Roman General Titus in AD 70. Jesus had prophesied this destruction and dispersion in Matthew 23:37—24:2. From AD 70 until May 14, 1948, the people of Israel were driven to every corner of the earth, scattered among the countries and nationalistically was non-existent.

During the past two millennia one would think Israel would have dissolved and been assimilated into scores of cultures and nationalities, as has happened to many distinct people groups throughout history. However, the path of distribution, dissemination, loss of distinction and ensuing destruction could not happen to the people of Israel. God kept His eternal covenant with Abraham, and Israel, though scattered, remained a distinct people.

Despite their disobedience, defection and defeat, the chosen people of God are always part of God’s plans and future events. Even their rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God, did not alter God’s plan and course for Israel. This promise to Israel was kept: “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:35-37). Israel survived, thrived, and now occupies their God-given land.

Last week history was made. The nation of Israel enjoyed her 70th anniversary by celebrating the move of its capital to Jerusalem. In a speech at the celebration, Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu said, “The prophet, Zechariah, declared over 2,500 years ago, ‘So said the Lord, I will return to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth.’”

Surely glorious days are ahead when those words, and these, come to pass: “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle…. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west…. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!” (Zechariah 14:2-5). When prophetic becomes historic, that will be a great day!

Walk the Talk

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When people talk the talk but do not walk the walk, it means they do not act in a way consistent with what they say. Their lips profess one thing but their lives exhibit another. People like this are rightly seen to be inconsistent and insincere, or to be as Jesus called them, “hypocrites.”

The demand, “If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk,” most often comes from skeptical people who have seen too many phony professors claim one thing and do another. However, it is not an unreasonable request for Christians to walk their talk. If you say you believe something, you should live like you do, after all, “actions speak louder than words,” “the time for talk is over,” and it is only right for you to “practice what you preach.” These familiar phrases point to one thing—to be credible and effective, you must live what you believe. Above all things, Christ calls His followers to always live life transparently for Him, in the presence of a doubting, critical and often cynical world.

In Jesus’ day hypocrites were well known for talking the talk, but not walking the walk. The Lord condemned them in the harshest terms, saying they would blow a trumpet so everyone could see them give alms (Matt 6:2)—stand and utter long prayers in the most conspicuous places so they could be seen by people (verse 5)—and disfigure their faces so it would appear to others that they were fasting (verse 16). Because of their religious sideshow, Jesus compared them to a cup that was externally clean but internally putrid (Matt. 23:25). He said they were like whitewashed tombs that were beautiful outwardly, but inwardly were full of dead men’s bones (verse 27). Unfortunately the hypocrisy of the Pharisees did not end in the first century.

Not only do hypocrites not walk the walk, they often criticize others who try to do so. Jesus exposed the absurdity of the judgmental hypocrite when he said, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

The Lord’s story of the speck and the log illustrates that some of your harshest critics, may be misguided people who have an appearance of Christianity without the life-changing power of Christ within. Don’t let self-appointed fruit inspectors discourage your walk with Christ. The Lord did not save you to judge people around you, but to live for Him, showing humility and having compassion, like Him.

Ultimately, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10). Paul writes, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (verses 12-13).

How much of an impact would you have if you exhibited in your life what you believe in your heart? This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). That is the reason he admonished them to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13). Their soul-salvation, which was in-wrought, was to be out-worked. They were, and we are, to walk the talk.

Songwriter Russ Lee had this in mind when he wrote: “I’m gonna live what I believe; I’m gonna walk that line. If it costs me everything, I’m gonna stand for what is right. So that everyone can see, It’s Jesus that they need. I’m gonna live what I believe.”

Accountability is crucial if you are serious about walking the talk—living for Christ in this world. You cannot do it by yourself; you need God; you need His Word; you need brothers and sisters who will urge you, teach you, pray for and help you. That is what the church is all about. The first church set the pattern for all churches when “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The effect of that church was dynamic as “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” (verse 43) and “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (verse 47). As you grow in your Christian life in the company of God’s people, you can truly walk the walk and talk the talk for Jesus!

But, let me warn you: Although no one is perfect, if there is a discrepancy between your faith and your practice—a disconnect between your belief and your behavior—a disparity between your walk and your talk—your witness for Christ will be diminished.

What pleases the Lord and impacts people is when your doctrines and your deeds go hand in hand. As you live what you believe, the world will see human integrity, God’s grace and Christ himself in your life. For this reason Jesus commanded His followers to “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). When you walk the talk, Jesus is exemplified, God is glorified and your Christian walk is verified.

 

 

 

Steps to Success

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How do you define success? Most people would say that success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose in life.  Success would be obtaining the favorable or desired outcome of a goal.  No matter how you define it, everyone wants to succeed.  Only a fool would set out in life, planning to be a failure.  So, if we all want to succeed, how can we best do that?

N. Garnett, Jr., a Certified Crop Advisor for Southern States, expressed one of the most comprehensive definitions of success I have seen. He said, “I define success as having a job that you enjoy and enables you financially, a spouse and family that loves and cares for you, children that make you proud by who they are and what they do, having the freedom to worship a loving God, and being able to contribute to the betterment of your fellow man. I am so blessed!” (Inc.com, December 18, 2014).

Booker T. Washington shared an insightful definition of success. In “The Story of My Life and Work,” (1969, page 51) he wrote, “I have learned that success is to be measured, not so much by the position one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” The energy, wisdom and tenacity required to overcome obstacles, may result in more satisfaction in success than the outcome.

The promise of success is most helpful when failure seems imminent, or the task seems futile. Joshua was in that intimidating place as he stepped into the shoes of Moses, probably the greatest leader of all time. During the previous 40 years Moses had endured while leading two million people of Israel from Egypt, through the desolate Sinai desert, to the border of the Promised Land. Through those four decades of turmoil Joshua had aided Moses. But now, Moses had died and the mantle of leadership fell upon Joshua. God said, “now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel” (Joshua 1:2).

No doubt Joshua was terrified at the task God called him to do. Thirty-eight years earlier Joshua, with Caleb, had been two of the 12 spies who had explored the land, only to have their report rejected by the people of Israel (Num. 13:1-16).  Israel did not trust God, so were condemned to waste 40 years of aimless wandering.

Now, to encourage Joshua, the Lord outlined His plans for him (Joshua 1:2-4). God assured Joshua of His own presence, “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (verse 5). Then the Lord followed with fresh words of encouragement, saying, “Be strong and courageous” (verse 6). . . “Be strong and very courageous” (verse 7). . . “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORDyour God is with you wherever you go” (verse 9).

In the midst of these reassuring words, the Lord promised Joshua success if he would follow three steps, “. . . for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (verse 8).

What are the steps God said would bring success?

First, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….” God’s power, even in battle, would inevitably be connected with His Word.  If Joshua spent time in, and was familiar with Scripture, it would bring success and blessing in other, more tangible ways.  The “book of the law” was the writings of Moses, who penned the first five books of the Bible. For success, first Joshua needed to be familiar with Israel’s history, God’s laws, His commands and blessings recorded in God’s Word. These words were “not to depart from your mouth.”  The Word was to be on his mind and lips.

Secondly, “You shall meditate on it day and night….”God said if Joshua would methodically meditate on Scripture, he would be successful. The Hebrew word for “meditate” means to coo, mutter or read in an undertone. Meditating on Scripture means to think about every word of the verse and seek ways to apply it to ones own life. As you meditate on Scripture, it will increase your understanding of God’s desires for your life.  The one who is “blessed,” or successful, is the one who finds delight in God’s Word and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

 The Third step for success was to “be careful to do according to all that is written in it….”  Someone said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is not what you want, but what you do, that makes a difference. Joshua was to “do according to” what was written.  It is easy to acknowledge obedience, to nod toward the value of doing something good, and yet fail to do it. Doing God’s will is the most important part of Christian service. James commands believers to “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

As Joshua spent quality time in Scripture, meditated on it and lived it out in practical ways, he led the people of Israel to victory while God made his way prosperous and granted him good success.

If you want success, these three steps will work for you as well. Practice a daily quiet time of reading the Bible.  Meditate on a verse or two that is significant to you.  Then obey the desires of God for your life.  No matter what happens God will consider the results a success.

Turn…Turn…Turn

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In 1965 Pete Seeger adapted the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, put them to music, and the Byrds sang the resulting song into a popular hit, “Turn… Turn… Turn.” The lyrics and song struck a familiar chord with many in those days who were experiencing times of tremendous change. Some of you reading this may remember all the upheavals of life during the turbulent 1960’s, as massive changes swept through every level of American society.

The theme of Seeger’s song, penned by inspiration at the hand of King Solomon, was that change happens under God’s control, not by random chance. He wrote, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).

The result of all these changes reaches its climax in verse 11, where it says, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts. . . .” This means that God has given every person an eternal perspective, so that he or she can look beyond the routine changes and difficulties of his or her own existence. Because God made us eternal beings, each of us realizes that there is more to this life than struggles, gains, losses, joys and heartaches. In the most thoughtful times you realize that you are not like “little dog Rover, dead all over,” when you die. We were created eternal beings with God’s desire that we enjoy fellowship with Him forever. God made fellowship with Him possible, and life forever in Heaven available by trusting Jesus Christ as your Savior. The apostle John wrote that, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

However, knowing you are an eternal being does not mean you love the ups and downs, gains and losses, in this life. Change is inevitable, difficult, and most often resisted. But as Henry Ford observed, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Personally, I have always identified with the last phrase of Proverbs 24:21, “My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those who are given to change.” I find comfort in this verse because the status quo is pleasant, while new things, changing things; unfamiliar things, are complicated, strange and uncomfortable. As difficult as it is, change happens these days more frequently, more inevitably and more swiftly than ever before.

Washington Irving (1783-1859), author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” recorded something true and memorable about “change.” He wrote, “There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that sometimes it is a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.” Change may be painful, but it is not all bad if you can be bruised in a new place.

An unknown back-porch philosopher accurately appraised the problem like this: “Changes—they are a comin’!” Change is inevitable. We are witnessing dramatic changes in almost everything we know, see and do. Rapid and often unwelcome changes in technology, politics, moral standards, government, society, media, nations, communications and finances are just the tip of the iceberg. Like it or not, drastic change is the new norm. Rapid changes will probably continue to accelerate the closer we approach the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though it makes some of us uncomfortable, sometimes change is good, wholesome, healthy, and may be spiritually invigorating. And, as the old saying goes, like it or not, here it comes!

In today’s multi-generational mix of fickle humanity, if you are a serious follower of Jesus Christ in this age you must chart your course by being committed to unchangeable values while being flexible with harmless trends. Some changes come and go without damage or danger. Sometimes the difference between the absolute and the abstract gets murky, but thankfully, inspired Scripture enables us to stay focused on what is important. Our direction must always be determined by imperative, clear, biblical priorities. We know that the Word of God is just as powerful and relevant whether it is read from ink on paper in a leather-bound book, or from an app on an iPhone. Truth is truth.

Change can be intimidating and frightening, but it can also be exciting and positive if we employ the changes to expand the kingdom and reach more people with His eternal, life-changing message. Focus on being true to the message that does not change while communicating in methods that always change. Robin Sharma said that “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, but gorgeous at the end.”

No matter what happens, God is still in control and He still has a great plan for His people to honor and serve Him. Find your place and purpose in life, and hang on to the hope of His glory!

Dangers of a Dull Knife

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My dad told me something I thought was strange. As I sawed on a little nylon rope with my pocketknife, he said, “You know, a dull knife will cut you.” What he said did not make sense at the time, but a few months later I learned the truth of his words, first-hand. While trying to force that still dull blade through a piece of wood, the blade slipped and jabbed my hand. I learned a bloody lesson the hard way.

So, why is a dull knife dangerous? A dull blade requires more pressure to cut, which increases the likelihood that the knife will slip with great force behind it, cutting or stabbing whatever it crosses.

If you think that seems like a contradiction, think about this: Not only will dull knives cut you, but only hard things like stone or steel can make them sharp. A knife blade will only get sharp when forced at the proper angle along a piece of stone or steel. The pressure and friction on the stone sharpens the knife.

You may be thinking, “OK, this is not a shop class, so where are you going with this?”

God used the truth that abrasive friction was necessary to sharpen knives, so we could learn the biblical principle: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). When one piece of iron is rubbed with force against another, it shapes and sharpens it.

First, the Lord wants you to know that people who surround you will influence you, for better or worse. Your family, friends and companions can make you sharp or dull.

Scripture encourages us to make and be good companions: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Your friends affect you, your attitudes, your behavior, your language, your values, your life and the level of your achievement.

You will be blessed if you surround yourself with friends who encourage and bring out the best in you. There are some people you can spend time with, who will make you a better person. My wife, Pat, is the most influential person in shaping my thinking, attitude and actions. My children have contributed greatly to help me be a better person. Most of my friends, whether they realize it or not, encourage me to do better.

A second truth you can learn from this biblical principle is that it takes pressure, friction, and even a little heat, to make you sharp. Knives cannot be sharpened without abrasive resistance. Cutting warm butter will not sharpen a knife. It takes friction to knock off the rough, dull edges of the blade, rendering it sharp and useful.

Similarly, like “iron on iron,” you need friends who will expose your hypocrisy, correct your poor habits, confront your laziness and challenge your sloppy thinking. This course of action may produce friction and generate heat, but it will make you sharper, safer and more useable to God and will render you a blessing to others.

The third lesson is that, just as friends may sharpen you, it is probable that others may dull your blade and make you less effective. Through the years I have had companions who soiled my testimony and encouraged me to do the wrong things. These are ones you need to avoid like the plague. God’s warning is clear and true: “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Proverbs 22:24-25).

These verses literally came true for me when I got a job at a DDT plant following high school graduation. Daily, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder, with a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed young man. Growing up, I had mostly avoided the habit of using curse words.  This came from no inner goodness on my part, as much as from a hatred of the soap my mom used to wash my mouth when she heard dirty words slip out.  A month into this job, listening to my co-worker spew out curse words in every sentence, every day, affected me. I began to notice a change in myself, when a little peeved, curse words sprang to my mind and were right on my tongue. It was all I could do to keep from using the obscenities that were readily available. I even had nightmares riddled with profanity. Paul warned, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Thankfully, I only worked three months with the potty-mouthed guy, but it took a few years to rid my mind of the verbal filth lodged there.

It is for these very reasons every believer needs to be active in a local church of loving people. Each of us is changed for the better by regular exposure to godly folks. God commands His people: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This means, if you want to please God, you must be regular and active in your local church. It also puts the lie to those who say, “I don’t need the church! I can live just as well for Jesus at home.” No, friend, you cannot. You need to spend time with God’s people and sharpen your life.

Consider who and how you can encourage, stimulate and bless. People who need Jesus as Savior, and others who need encouragement to serve Him in life, are all around you. If you will invest time and energy with good people, it will sharpen you for life. Iron sharpens iron—one man sharpens another—so you don’t have to be a dull blade. Pray for people with whom you can invest your life—then do it—for the glory of God. Remember, a dull knife will cut you but God has a better plan!

Tax Day….YAY!

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I have a friend in Orange County, California, who owned a very successful cabinet shop. He and his wife started with nothing and slowly built it up into a multi-million dollar business employing 15 cabinetmakers. One day he was working at the desk in his house, figuring up and writing the check for his quarterly estimated income tax. His wife happened to see the amount of the check and was floored at the size of it. “That’s terrible that we have to pay so much in taxes!” she exclaimed to him. Frank calmly replied: “Honey, there have been times when we didn’t owe any taxes. I would rather pay taxes than owe none!”

Nobody likes to pay taxes. This duty is unpopular and for many people April 15 is the most dreaded day of the year. Sometimes there is evidence of corruption in the collection and use of tax money. It seems the amount and types of taxes are endless, and we think there are better things we could do with our money. But for the Christian, it is our duty to pay our fair share.

Where does your tax money go, anyway?

When Americans pay their taxes, some of it goes to salaries of local, state and federal government workers. It supports community protection like police and firefighters. A large portion goes to provide for the common defense, like our armed forces, military, ships, tanks, planes and guns used to keep us safe and defend our freedom. Some tax money goes to invest in technology and education, as well as to provide goods and services for the American people. It also pays for major health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as prisons to keep criminals out of the community, which make our streets safer. Tax dollars insure the roads you travel on are safe and well maintained, as well as bridges, railways and interstate highways. Taxes fund public libraries, parks and recreation facilities. Generally speaking, taxes enable the smooth and beneficial running of society. Taxes pay the cost of maintaining our freedom.

Who Pays the Most in Taxes?

You may think you have it bad on tax day. However, the top 1% of Americans pay 43.6% of all Federal income tax in the United States. Of course, to pay that much in taxes you must earn more than $2 million per year. Just about 115,000 households who earn more than $9 million per year pay 20% of the annual tax burden. The bottom 50% of American taxpayers pay a total of 3% of the total income tax. So, maybe you should breathe a sigh of relief.

Did Jesus Teach that we should Pay Taxes?

Even in Bible times, people hated to pay taxes. The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus in His words when they asked, “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17).  They wanted to know if paying a tax to Caesar was in accordance with the Jewish Law, the Torah. The “poll-tax” was a tax imposed by the Roman government on every Jew.

If Jesus said they should pay, His enemies could charge Him with disloyalty to Israel. If He said no, they could denounce Him to the Romans as a rebel. Jesus recognized their trap and said, “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” After bringing a Roman coin, Jesus asked, “Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to Him, Caesar’s. Then He said to them, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (verses 19-21).

What did Jesus mean by His statement? He recognized the difference between political and spiritual responsibilities. Caesar for them, government for us, should be given taxes and rightful political obedience. However, God also should be given worship, obedience, service, tithes, and the dedication of one’s whole life.

Remember: The Roman government, which Jesus said to obey, was not a righteous government. It was the government that sanctioned the crucifixion of the only perfect man this world has seen. However, Jesus paid taxes and commanded His followers to do likewise, because government is God’s present system of establishing order and equity for humanity.

Does God expect us to pay taxes?

Though surprising to some, the Bible commands Christians to pay taxes. Paul wrote, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). He goes on to remind his readers that a ruler is “a minister of God to you for good,” because he, as an avenger, “brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (verse 4). Among other things, we should all be thankful for prisons and police.

Paul wrote further: “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:6-7).

On top of God’s clear directives, the only time Christians have the right to disobey government is when it forbids them from doing something the Bible commands, like teaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:27-29).

In a letter dated May 10, 1789, President George Washington wrote the United Baptist Churches of Virginia: “that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

According to Bible teaching, God planned for taxes to be used for the benefit of society. And even though we dread the day they are due, we should be thankful for all the benefits of a government that provides protection, care and freedom to serve God according to the dictates of our conscience.